By Vincent Lyn
Give your stuff away
It started about ten years ago, my journey with minimalism. I was single at the time living in NYC.
Looking back, I don’t think I would have called it minimalism. But I would have told you that, at some point, I looked around my life and realized I had collected a lot of stuff and that I would never really be able to pursue what mattered most to me if I wasn’t able to let go of my physical possessions. Actually, I would have emphasized, it wasn’t just my possessions, but the way I thought about them.
One reason we are not happy is often we do not align our actions with our values. Two things that I value are efficiency and environmental responsibility. How does this relate to material items? It turns out in every way imaginable. I could just throw all of my things into a giant dumpster and the superfluous stuff would be gone tomorrow, but this would be both wasteful and not great for the environment. It would not align with my values.
If instead I give stuff away, I prevent some other unnecessary item from being produced, saving the resources and energy for something more useful. Since the item no longer brings me joy, I can only hope that by giving it away someone else will experience it. In this way I am aligning my actions with my values.
I didn’t realize how much I worried about my stuff until I let it all go, and suddenly I had mental and emotional energy again. It’s a similar feeling to letting go of bitterness you’ve been harboring for a long time. You don’t even realize you are holding it, and then you let it go, and suddenly realize — you’re free. How could I give up these clothes, or these books, or this box of letters? They were so important to me. But then, I let them go, and after six months, I could hardly remember why I ever needed them so much. I found so much peace in letting go.
In the past few years I’ve been able to pursue the things that really matter to me because I’m not bogged down by things like owning a car or the upkeep of a house for that matter. For me, this has meant I’ve been able to travel, write a book, develop friendships, spend more on projects I care about, and spend time on my non-profit in my area that gives me joy and satisfies my spirit. What could this kind of freedom mean for you?
I used to think I couldn’t give up most of what I owned because it wouldn’t be “responsible.” But as I began to give up my possessions, I realized that I had a really skewed view of what responsibility was and what it meant. I thought buying a certain kind of laundry detergent was more “responsible” than buying another.
What I’m learning is that responsibility looks different for everyone, and that part of being responsible is knowing how to care for your spiritual and emotional self, which transcend the physical. What if part of being “responsible,” in other words, is listening to your spirit when it tells you, each morning as you drive to work, or as you look at the clutter in your house, that it is suffocating?
For a long time I thought that what I owned said something about me, and maybe in a way, it does. But the way I felt like it said something about me was this: If I owned a Porsche and wore a Rolex that meant I had really made it. One of my biggest passions was sport cars and wrist watches from Porsche to Lotus and Rolex to Panerai. I changed cars and watches faster than most change their sneakers and speaking of sneakers many of my friends are wearing my giveaways. But, I haven’t owned a car in nine years and now never wear a wrist watch except in the field of rescue & recovery, what’s worth $20. Now, that thought seems so ludicrous to me, but I think what I felt was that what I owned was a reflection of my self-worth. And now, thanks to the fact that I don’t have a car or watch my self worth comes from somewhere much deeper and more secure. You can’t put a price on that.
As I travel further along on my journey towards freedom and happiness, I’ve noticed I am gravitating towards simplicity. I no longer really need or want much of the stuff around me. It doesn’t bring me joy. Letting go has actually made me feel richer. The less I have, the more I feel like I have. The more I let go, the more I find myself in control of my life. It’s a bit strange and counterintuitive.
I still feel I have a lot of material things; I’ve spent my whole life accumulating. But because of my new mindset, every time I turn around there is a new box or bag of things to be eliminated from my life. Just today I donated dozens of books to the local library. I’ve mentally let go, but it takes a surprising amount of work to get material things out of your life.
I used to sell my stuff. I’ve made a few dollars selling high value items on Craigslist, but after a while I realized it wasn’t worth it. Making a few hundred dollars on Craigslist or eBay is not really worth a joyless half hour of my life. I would be much better served by just giving the stuff away.
I issue a challenge to all you reading this article. When you have finished reading go to your closet and fill a box or bag with items to donate. We all have things that no longer fit or we just don’t wear. This stuff is meaningless to you, but will make a big change in someone else’s life.
Find a local charity in your community, preferably one that distributes directly to people in need. I know there are national charity organizations that are easy and convenient, but my choice is to start with the micro-charities first. one then go with one of the big boys. This will take a little work, but it is our responsibility to find a good home for our stuff.
CEO/Founder at We Can Save Children
Director of Creative Development at African Views Organization
Economic & Social Council at United Nations
Editor-in-Chief at Wall Street News Agency
Rescue & Recovery Specialist at International Confederation of Police & Security Experts